Imagine being able to effortlessly do the splits and go even further beyond in your flexibility. With home workouts gaining popularity during the pandemic, flexibility training has become a hot trend for many. In this article, we will explore the world of flexibility training and discover the secrets to achieving splits and beyond. Whether you’re a beginner or have already made progress, get ready to stretch your limits and achieve a whole new level of flexibility. So grab your yoga mat and let’s get started on this exciting journey towards greater flexibility.
Benefits of Flexibility Training
Flexibility training offers numerous benefits that can enhance your overall physical well-being. By incorporating regular flexibility exercises into your fitness routine, you can experience improved joint range of motion, reduced muscle tension and soreness, enhanced athletic performance, and improved posture and alignment.
Improves joint range of motion
One of the key benefits of flexibility training is its ability to improve joint range of motion. When you have greater flexibility in your joints, you can move more freely and with less discomfort. This is particularly important for activities that require a wide range of motion, such as sports, dancing, and even everyday tasks like reaching for objects or bending down. By regularly engaging in flexibility exercises, your joints become more flexible and can move through their full range of motion with ease.
Reduces muscle tension and soreness
Flexibility training also helps reduce muscle tension and soreness. Tight muscles can lead to discomfort and even pain, hindering your ability to perform physical activities effectively. By engaging in stretching exercises that target specific muscle groups, you can release tension and relieve soreness. Flexibility exercises increase blood flow to the muscles, promoting relaxation and accelerated recovery. This can be particularly beneficial after intense workouts or physical activities, helping you bounce back quicker and prevent muscle imbalances.
Enhances athletic performance
Athletes of all levels can greatly benefit from flexibility training. Improved flexibility allows for better muscular coordination, leading to enhanced performance in various sports and physical activities. When your muscles are more flexible, they can generate more power and perform movements with greater efficiency. Additionally, flexibility training helps prevent injuries by reducing the risk of muscle strains and tears. It also promotes better body mechanics, maximizing your potential for athletic success.
Improves posture and alignment
Poor posture is a common issue that can lead to various musculoskeletal problems. Flexibility training can help correct postural imbalances and improve overall alignment. By targeting specific muscle groups that contribute to poor posture, such as those in the back, shoulders, and hips, you can achieve better alignment in your spine. This can alleviate back and neck pain, as well as improve your overall appearance. With improved posture, you’ll not only look taller and more confident, but you’ll also reduce the risk of developing long-term postural issues.
Types of Flexibility Training
There are various types of flexibility training techniques that you can incorporate into your fitness routine. Each type focuses on different stretching methods and targets different muscle groups. By diversifying your flexibility training, you can reap the benefits of a well-rounded and comprehensive approach.
Static stretching involves holding a stretch for an extended period, typically between 15 to 60 seconds. This type of stretching is performed in a stationary position and focuses on gradually elongating the targeted muscle group. Static stretching is an effective method for improving overall flexibility and increasing joint range of motion. It is commonly used in warm-up and cool-down routines and can be done both before and after physical activity.
Dynamic stretching involves performing controlled movements that actively stretch your muscles and joints. Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching involves continuous motion and is typically done at a faster pace. Dynamic stretching improves flexibility through a combination of muscle activation and stretching. It is particularly beneficial before engaging in activities that require explosive movements, such as sprinting or jumping. Dynamic stretching helps warm up the muscles and prepares them for dynamic movements.
PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, stretching is a more advanced flexibility training technique. It involves alternating between contraction and relaxation of targeted muscle groups. PNF stretching leverages the body’s natural reflexes to achieve an increased range of motion. This technique is often used in rehabilitation and sports performance settings due to its effectiveness in improving flexibility and muscle strength. PNF stretching requires a partner to assist with the contract-relax process.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a technique that involves isolating and stretching specific muscles or muscle groups. Unlike static stretching, AIS focuses on moving through a stretch for only a brief period, typically around two seconds. This technique promotes increased blood flow to the muscles, aiding in their flexibility and overall performance. Active isolated stretching is often used by athletes to enhance athletic performance and prevent injuries.
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates are both popular forms of exercise that not only improve flexibility but also promote overall strength and well-being. These practices combine dynamic and static stretching techniques with mindful movement and controlled breathing. Yoga focuses on achieving balance, strength, and flexibility through various poses and flows, while Pilates emphasizes core strength and alignment. Both disciplines offer a wide range of exercises and poses that can be tailored to individual flexibility goals.
This image is property of images.unsplash.com.
Before diving into your flexibility training routine, it’s crucial to properly warm up your muscles and prepare your body for the stretches to come. A warm-up increases blood flow to the muscles, raises body temperature, and improves flexibility. Here are some effective warm-up exercises to include in your routine:
Jumping jacks are a classic warm-up exercise that gets your blood pumping and engages multiple muscle groups. Start by standing with your feet together and your arms at your sides. In one fluid motion, jump your feet out to the sides while simultaneously raising your arms overhead. Jump back to the starting position and repeat for a set number of repetitions. Jumping jacks warm up your lower body, upper body, and cardiovascular system.
Arm swings help loosen up your shoulders, chest, and upper back. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Begin swinging your arms forward and backward in a controlled motion. Gradually increase the range of motion and speed. Arm swings help improve shoulder mobility and warm up the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.
Hip circles are an excellent warm-up exercise to loosen up your hips and lower back. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands on your hips. Begin rotating your hips in a circular motion, first clockwise and then counterclockwise. Make sure to keep your upper body stable and engaged throughout the movement. Hip circles enhance hip joint flexibility and mobility.
Ankle rotations warm up the muscles and ligaments in the ankles, improving ankle mobility and stability. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Lift one foot off the ground and rotate your ankle in a circular motion, first clockwise and then counterclockwise. Perform several rotations in each direction before switching to the other foot. Ankle rotations can be done standing or seated and are beneficial for activities that involve foot movement, such as running or dancing.
Static Stretching Routine
Static stretching is an essential part of any flexibility training routine. This type of stretching helps improve muscle flexibility, increase joint range of motion, and relieve muscle tension. Here are some common static stretching exercises that you can include in your routine:
The hamstring stretch targets the muscles in the back of your thighs, promoting increased flexibility and reducing tightness. Start by sitting on the ground with both legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and place the sole of your foot against the inside of your opposite thigh. Keeping your back straight, gently reach forward and try to touch your toes. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The quadriceps stretch targets the muscles in the front of your thighs, improving flexibility and alleviating tightness. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Bend one knee and bring your foot towards your glutes, using your hand to grab your ankle or foot. Keep your upper body upright and engage your core. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Hip flexor stretch
The hip flexor stretch targets the muscles at the front of your hip and thigh, enhancing hip mobility and reducing tightness. Start in a lunge position with one knee on the ground and the other leg bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Keeping your torso upright, gently push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The calf stretch targets the muscles in the back of your lower leg, improving ankle flexibility and relieving tightness. Stand facing a wall and place both hands on it at shoulder height. Step one foot back, keeping your heel flat on the ground. Lean forward, bending your front knee, and feel the stretch in your calf muscle. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Remember to perform static stretches after your muscles are warmed up, such as after a workout or following a dynamic warm-up routine. Hold each stretch for the recommended duration and do not bounce or push yourself beyond your comfort level. Over time, you’ll notice increased flexibility and improved overall range of motion.
This image is property of images.unsplash.com.
Dynamic Stretching Routine
Dynamic stretching is a valuable addition to your flexibility training routine, especially before engaging in activities that require dynamic movements. This type of stretching helps warm up the muscles, increase blood flow, and prepare your body for more intense physical activity. Here are some dynamic stretching exercises to include in your routine:
Walking lunges are an excellent full-body warm-up exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Take a step forward with your right foot and lower your body into a lunge position, with your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle and your left knee hovering just above the ground. Push off with your back foot and step your left foot forward into another lunge. Continue alternating legs and walking forward for a set distance or number of repetitions.
High knees help warm up your lower body, particularly the quadriceps and hip flexors, while also increasing your heart rate. Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Begin jogging in place, focusing on lifting your knees as high as possible with each step. Engage your core and swing your arms in coordination with your leg movements. Maintain a brisk pace for a set duration or number of repetitions.
Leg swings improve hip mobility and flexibility, targeting the muscles of the hip and inner thighs. Stand next to a wall or support, facing sideways. Place one hand on the wall for balance. Swing your outside leg (the leg farthest from the wall) forward and backward in a controlled manner. Gradually increase the range of motion with each swing. Perform a set number of swings on one side before switching to the other side. Remember to keep your upper body stable and engage your core throughout the movement.
Arm circles are a dynamic stretching exercise that loosens up your shoulders and upper back while engaging your core muscles. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Begin making small circles with your arms, gradually increasing the size of the circles. After a set number of rotations, reverse the direction of the circles. Continue the arm circles for a set duration or number of repetitions.
Perform dynamic stretching exercises before your workout or physical activity to prepare your muscles for movement. Focus on controlled and fluid movements, gradually increasing the intensity and range of motion. Dynamic stretches should not be done to the point of discomfort or pain. Instead, they should help wake up your muscles and increase blood flow to enhance performance.
PNF Stretching Techniques
PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, stretching is an advanced flexibility training technique commonly used by athletes and individuals looking to achieve greater flexibility. PNF stretching involves alternating between muscle contractions and relaxations to increase range of motion. The following PNF stretching techniques can be incorporated into your flexibility training routine:
The hold-relax technique focuses on increasing the stretch in a specific muscle group through a series of contractions and relaxations. Start by assuming a static stretch position for the target muscle group. Apply gentle pressure to intensify the stretch, then contract the target muscle group for 5 to 10 seconds while resisting the pressure. After the contraction, relax the muscles and move deeper into the stretch for a few seconds. Repeat the contraction and relaxation process a few times, gradually moving further into the stretch each time.
The contract-relax technique provides a more passive approach to increasing flexibility in a specific muscle group. Begin by assuming a static stretch position for the target muscle group. Apply gentle pressure to intensify the stretch, then attempt to contract the opposing muscle group for 7 to 10 seconds while resisting the pressure. For example, if you are stretching your hamstring, you would contract your quadriceps. Release the contraction and relax into a deeper stretch for a few seconds. Repeat the process, gradually moving further into the stretch with each repetition.
The hold-relax-contract technique combines both the hold-relax and contract-relax techniques for maximum stretching benefits. Start by assuming a static stretch position for the target muscle group. Apply gentle pressure to intensify the stretch. Contract the target muscle group for 5 to 10 seconds while resisting the pressure, then relax the muscles and move deeper into the stretch for a few seconds. Finally, contract the opposing muscle group for 7 to 10 seconds while resisting the pressure. Release the contraction and relax into a deeper stretch for a few seconds. Repeat the entire sequence, gradually moving further into the stretch each time.
PNF stretching techniques should be used with caution and preferably under the guidance of a trained professional, especially if you’re new to these methods. It’s important to listen to your body and avoid any movements or stretches that cause pain or discomfort. PNF stretching is most effective when performed after a proper warm-up and in conjunction with other stretching techniques.
This image is property of images.unsplash.com.
Active Isolated Stretching Exercises
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a flexibility training technique developed by Aaron L. Mattes. It involves activating specific muscles to facilitate a stretch, enabling greater range of motion and overall flexibility. The following AIS exercises can be incorporated into your flexibility training routine:
Neck stretches help relieve tension and improve mobility in the muscles of the neck and upper back. Sit or stand in a comfortable position with your spine upright. Slowly tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder, until you feel a gentle stretch on the opposite side of your neck. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch on the other side. Perform several repetitions on each side, gradually increasing the range of motion.
Shoulder stretches are beneficial for releasing tension and enhancing mobility in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and relax your arms by your sides. Starting with one arm, slowly raise it out to the side and then overhead, gently reaching towards the opposite side. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds, then lower your arm back to the starting position. Repeat the stretch with the other arm. Alternate between the left and right arms for several repetitions, aiming to gradually increase the range of motion.
Spinal stretches promote spinal flexibility and relieve tension in the muscles of the back. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your thighs and slowly slide them up towards your knees, lifting your head, neck, and upper back off the ground. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds, then lower your upper body back down to the starting position. Repeat the stretch for several repetitions, focusing on engaging your abdominal muscles to support the movement.
Active isolated stretching exercises should be performed in a controlled manner, with a focus on proper form and alignment. It’s important to avoid any sharp or jerky movements and not to push yourself beyond your comfort level. Gradually increase the intensity and range of motion as your flexibility improves. Incorporate active isolated stretching into your flexibility training routine to further enhance your overall flexibility and joint mobility.
Yoga Poses for Flexibility
Yoga is an ancient practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to promote overall well-being. It is well-renowned for its ability to improve flexibility, increase range of motion, and enhance mind-body connection. Incorporating the following yoga poses into your flexibility training routine can help you achieve greater flexibility:
Downward-facing dog is a foundational yoga pose that targets the entire body, including the shoulders, back, hamstrings, and calves. Start on your hands and knees, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your knees directly beneath your hips. Curl your toes under and lift your hips up towards the ceiling, straightening your legs as much as possible. Press your palms firmly into the mat and reach your heels towards the ground. Hold the pose for several breaths, focusing on lengthening your spine and relaxing your neck and shoulders.
Cobra pose is a backbend that stretches the muscles in the front of your body, including the chest, shoulders, and abdominals. Start by lying face down on your mat, with your legs extended and the tops of your feet resting on the ground. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, fingers spread wide. Inhale and press into your hands to lift your chest off the ground, arching your back and gazing forward. Keep your elbows slightly bent and engage your core to support the backbend. Hold the pose for several breaths, focusing on opening your chest and lengthening your spine.
Pigeon pose is a deep hip opener that stretches the outer hips and glutes. Start in a high plank position with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders. Bring your right knee towards your right hand, placing your ankle just behind your left wrist. Slide your left leg back, extending it fully behind you. Lower your hips towards the ground, feeling a stretch in your right hip and thigh. You can choose to stay upright or fold forward over your front leg for a deeper stretch. Hold the pose for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Butterfly pose is a seated posture that opens up the hips and stretches the inner thighs. Start by sitting on your mat with your spine straight and your legs extended in front of you. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to fall out to the sides. Use your hands to gently press down on your thighs, opening your hips further. If desired, gently butterfly your legs up and down to increase the stretch. Hold the pose for several breaths, focusing on relaxing your hips and gently pressing your knees towards the ground.
Incorporating yoga into your flexibility training routine not only enhances your flexibility but also helps improve balance, strength, and stress management. Take your time with each yoga pose, focusing on proper alignment and listening to your body. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of each pose as you become more comfortable and flexible.
Pilates Exercises for Flexibility
Pilates is a low-impact exercise method that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and body awareness. By incorporating specific Pilates exercises into your flexibility training routine, you can strengthen your muscles, improve posture, and increase overall flexibility. Here are some Pilates exercises that target different muscle groups and promote flexibility:
Rolling like a ball
Rolling like a ball is a Pilates exercise that massages the spine, stretches the back, and strengthens the core muscles. Start by sitting on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Wrap your arms around your legs, grabbing onto your ankles or shins. Engage your core and round your spine, lifting your feet off the ground and balancing on your sit bones. Use your abdominal muscles to roll backward until your shoulder blades touch the mat. Then, engage your core to roll back up to the starting position. Repeat the rolling motion for several repetitions, focusing on maintaining control and balance.
The saw is a Pilates exercise that stretches the hamstrings, hips, and spine, while also engaging the core muscles. Sit on your mat with your legs extended in front of you, slightly wider than hip-width apart. Reach your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Twist your upper body to the right, reaching your left hand towards your right foot. As you twist, simultaneously tilt your upper body forward, feeling a stretch in your hamstrings. Return to the starting position and repeat the motion to the left side. Perform the saw exercise for several repetitions, focusing on maintaining proper form and lengthening your spine.
The mermaid stretch targets the muscles in the side body, improving flexibility and mobility. Start by sitting on your mat with your legs folded to one side. Place your hand on the mat, a few inches behind your hips, fingers pointing away from your body. Reach your other arm overhead, lengthening your side body. Inhale and lift up through your ribs and arm, feeling a stretch along your side. Exhale and lower back down to the starting position. Repeat the stretch on the other side. Perform the mermaid stretch for several repetitions on each side, focusing on maintaining proper alignment and lengthening through the side body.
Leg circles are a Pilates exercise that targets the muscles of the hips, thighs, and core. Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms by your sides. Lift one leg off the ground and extend it towards the ceiling. Point your toes and draw small circles in the air with your leg, focusing on engaging your core and maintaining control. After several circles in one direction, reverse the direction and continue the leg circles. Perform the exercise for a set number of repetitions, then repeat with the other leg.
Including Pilates exercises in your flexibility training routine can help improve your body’s overall strength, stability, and flexibility. Focus on proper alignment and controlled movements, and avoid any exercises or positions that cause discomfort or pain. Gradually increase the difficulty of each exercise to challenge your muscles and promote further flexibility gains.
Beyond the Splits: Advanced Flexibility Goals
Once you’ve established a consistent flexibility training routine and achieved basic flexibility goals, you may be motivated to pursue more advanced flexibility milestones. Beyond the splits, various advanced flexibility goals can challenge your body and enhance your overall flexibility. Here are some advanced flexibility goals to consider:
Backbends and bridges
Backbends and bridges are advanced flexibility goals that target the muscles of the back, shoulders, and hips. These exercises require a combination of strength, flexibility, and proper body alignment. Backbends can be achieved through a gradual progression of bridge exercises, such as bridge pose, wheel pose, and drop backs. Working with a trained professional or certified instructor can help you safely progress towards these advanced flexibility goals.
Advanced hip openers
Hip openers are challenging poses that target the muscles and connective tissues of the hips, allowing for greater flexibility and mobility. Advanced hip openers include poses like king pigeon pose, lotus pose, and firefly pose. These poses require not only flexibility but also strength and stability. Practicing a combination of yoga and Pilates exercises can help prepare your body for advanced hip openers.
Shoulder and chest openers
Shoulder and chest openers focus on increasing flexibility in the shoulders, chest, and upper back. These poses help correct posture imbalances and improve overall upper body alignment. Advanced shoulder and chest openers include poses like king dancer pose, camel pose, and scorpion pose. It’s important to approach these advanced poses with proper technique and gradually work towards deepening the stretch.
Full-body flexibility routines
Full-body flexibility routines integrate a combination of stretching exercises and poses that target various muscle groups and promote overall body flexibility. These routines often involve a mix of static stretching, dynamic stretching, PNF stretching, yoga poses, and Pilates exercises. Creating a comprehensive full-body flexibility routine with the help of a trained professional can help you achieve advanced flexibility throughout your entire body.
When pursuing advanced flexibility goals beyond the splits, it’s crucial to progress gradually, listen to your body, and prioritize safety. Working with a qualified instructor or coach can provide guidance and support as you push your flexibility boundaries. Remember to always warm up properly, practice proper form and alignment, and avoid forcing yourself into positions that cause pain or discomfort.
Incorporating flexibility training into your fitness routine offers numerous benefits that go beyond simply touching your toes. From improved joint range of motion to enhanced athletic performance, flexibility training can have a positive impact on your overall physical well-being. By exploring different flexibility training techniques, incorporating warm-up exercises, and incorporating a variety of stretching routines, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your flexibility goals and experiencing the many rewards that come with increased flexibility. So get stretching, keep moving, and enjoy the journey to a more flexible and mobile you!